When it comes to leaving a hostel and heading back onto the road I, like most of the people I meet, have real trouble with leaving the stable comforts and company behind to cycle and camp alone in a new, unknown environment every day. Leaving Bucharest was even harder than normal because my mind was a little unstable. I’d been over-thinking a lot of the potential pitfalls of what was doing and the fact that thus-far it had gone so smoothly.
I had begun to believe that it was a statistically inevitability that I WOULD crash, get hit by a car, get eaten by wolves, experience a catastrophic mechanical failure, catch a debilitating illness, be robbed by gypsies or be abducted by religious extremists. People near every border seemed quick to warn me to “be careful” in the next country as if the people of the next nation were so far removed from their own way of life and would commit grievous crimes against me at the earliest opportunity. I guess eventually this takes its toll.
With my mental constitution at a questionable level, I headed out of the hostel to begin nine days of misery to get to Istanbul. Every day was a different trial, heat, hills, dehydration, hunger, dogs, bad roads and of course, the wind. These evils rarely worked alone on chipping away at my spirit. Heat, hills and wind together one day pushed me VERY close to breaking point, but I kept reminding myself that slow motion is better than no motion and kept going.
Twentyfour hours of rain then preceded a night below zero which froze my tent solid. Sub-zero conditions were something I thought I’d seen the last of having just crossed into Turkey in the middle of April! (During the rain I also made the amateur error of leaving my shoes outside the tent overnight, which resulted in me having to wear plastic bags over my socks, this did nothing to improve my mood). Having crossed the Bulgarian border to Turkey’s second city I endured the worst wind I've ever experienced., but I pushed on to Istanbul and somehow managed to average over 100km a day over that nine day stint from hell.
Riding into Istanbul was probably the most exhausting piece of cycling I've ever done and was a fitting end to a torturous week. I got to the outskirts of the sprawling metropolis of 20 million people at about 1800, just in time to revel in the joys of rush hour traffic. I'm quite used to the thrills (and spills) of commuting by bicycle, but this was an entirely new experience.
Chaos reigns and right of way seems to go to whoever claims it with most aggression. I was bumped by a car joining from my right almost immediately upon entering the fray and within five minutes I, whilst trying to concentrate on 360 degrees of madness, ran into a car in front that had abruptly stopped on a roundabout; luckily the driver wasn't really phased by my clumsy error. I enjoyed about 20 minutes of collision free travel before a car on my left veered right to avoid a car muscling it's way in on her left, pinning me against a barrier. Having come over 4000km from home without incident I had racked up three within half an hour.
Mentally and physically exhausted, but somehow unscathed, I made it to the tourist centre of Sultanahmet and quickly found Arif's shop. Arif is a friend of my father and had kindly agreed to host me for some of my time in the city. My bike was safely locked above Arif's shop and I was finally able to behave like a real tourist and enjoy a city that I've wanted to visit for a long time.